The Middle East Channel

Israeli election results show a shift toward the center

Preliminary results of Israel’s election show a weakened Benjamin Netanyahu, who is nonetheless likely to serve a third term as prime minister, and a surprising shift toward the center. Netanyahu’s Likud-Beitenu bloc came out on top with a predicted 31 seats out of the 120 in the Knesset. Coming in second, the new centrist Yesh ...

AFP/Getty Images/AHMAD GHARABLI
AFP/Getty Images/AHMAD GHARABLI

Preliminary results of Israel’s election show a weakened Benjamin Netanyahu, who is nonetheless likely to serve a third term as prime minister, and a surprising shift toward the center. Netanyahu’s Likud-Beitenu bloc came out on top with a predicted 31 seats out of the 120 in the Knesset. Coming in second, the new centrist Yesh Atid, There is a Future, led by former television personality Yair Lapid unexpectedly took a projected 19 seats. The center-left Labor party came in third taking an estimated 15 seats. Arab parties are projected to have won 12 seats. Netanyahu, entering the race as an overwhelming favorite, toned down the hawkish rhetoric he used to appeal to the right wing during the campaign, and said he would seek "as broad a government as possible." However, building a coalition could prove to be difficult and might take weeks. According to a senior member of Yesh Atid, whoever wants to include the party in the coalition will have to prioritize the peace process with the Palestinians and ending the exemption of ultra-Orthodox Jews from military conscription. Netanyahu said the first challenge for the new Knesset "was and remains preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons." Turnout for polling was estimated at 66.4 percent, the highest since 1999. Official results are due out on January 30.

Syria

About 77 Russian citizens, mostly women and children, flew into Moscow early Wednesday fleeing the nearing two-year conflict in Syria. The move may be a sign of diminishing hopes of the Russians that their ally President Bashar al-Assad will retain power. However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov insisted this is not the beginning of a mass evacuation of the country’s citizens from Syria. He said about 1,000 out of the estimate 30,000 Russian citizens in the country have expressed an interest in leaving Syria. However, the evacuated Russians commented on the decline in conditions in the warring country. Meanwhile, a United Nation’s humanitarian official, John Ging, reiterated concerns after a rare mission to Syria. He said conditions were "appalling" and he was "shocked on so many levels" by the scarcity of humanitarian resources.

Headlines

  • Jordanians have begun voting on Wednesday in their first parliamentary elections since the Arab Spring. The Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s biggest party, will boycott the elections.
  • Bahrain’s opposition has agreed to resume talks after an invitation from the justice minister in efforts to end divisions and violence plaguing the Gulf country for the past two years.
  • Morocco’s justice minister announced it is planning to reform its penal code to put an end to the practice of pardoning kidnappers or rapists if they marry their victims.

Arguments and Analysis

What’s Old is New Again: The Legacy of Algeria’s Civil War in Today’s Jihad (Andrew Lebovich, Jihadica)

"When longtime Algerian jihadist and recently-removed AQIM commander Mokhtar Belmokhtar announced in December the creation of a new combat unit, al-Mouwakoune Bi-Dima ("Those Who Sign with Blood"), much of the media coverage focused on what Belmokhtar said about the new group’s role. As part of Belmokhtar’s Katibat al-Moulathimin, the new group would, in his words, attack "those planning the war in northern Mali." Belmokhtar also said that an eventual intervention in Mali would be "a proxy war on behalf of the Occident." He also explicitly threatened not only France, but also Algeria, calling the country’s political, military, and economic elites "sons of France" and saying "we will respond with force, we will have our say, we will fight you in your homes and we will attack your interests."

At the time, few noted Belmokhtar’s important historical reference point in choosing this name for his new faction: the name al-Mouwakoune Bi-Dima was originally used by a group of Algerian Armed Islamic Group (GIA) fighters who conducted a series of attacks in Algeria and in France against French targets. Most notable was the Mouwakoune group’s December 1994 hijacking of Air France Flight 8969, an incident that ended when elite French gendarmes stormed the plane on the tarmac in Marseille. While few sources discuss this group in detail, a brief discussion of the attackers and their relationship with the GIA leadership appears on pages 194-196 of al-Hayat journalist Camille Tawil’s book on the GIA, an authoritative source on the group which has never been translated from the original Arabic. (My thanks to Jihadica blogmaster Will McCants for translating and summarizing relevant passages for the purposes of this post.)"

Egypt: The Rule of the Brotherhood (Yasmine El Rashidi, The New York Review of Books)

"One turns to many sources to understand the character of Mohamed Morsi, the Egyptian president. There are his longtime fellow members in the Muslim Brotherhood, with whom he served time in Hosni Mubarak’s prison cells. ("He is steadfast, and pragmatic.") There are his aides and advisers. ("He is a very careful listener," "he is meticulous.") There are his critics in the judiciary and the opposition parties. ("He is politically inept," "he has the traits of a Pharaoh.") There are the thousands of men and women who have taken to the streets against him. ("He is a puppet of the Brotherhood.") And there are the ordinary people whose lives, quite by chance, have come to overlap with his. (A watermelon seller on a corner near his house told me this summer, "He has a good heart.") There is fact and then, of course, there are the makings of political fiction.

When Morsi ran for president of the republic in the spring of 2012-the second candidate of choice for the Muslim Brotherhood after their first, Khairat El-Shater, was disqualified because of a recent criminal record-few thought he had a chance. Here was a man with little of the personal appeal necessary to convince or sway, and no apparent vision save for the Al-Nahda("Renaissance") project that the secretive Muslim Brotherhood had prescribed as the answer to the struggles of a nation. The details of that "project" were vague, revealed only in much-repeated phrases: "job creation," "Islam," "economic revival," "opportunity for youth," "the next generation," "Islam." At Morsi campaign rallies you would also hear the words "religion," "deviation," and "redemption."

–By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey

 Twitter: @casey_mary

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